The most common advice I give out to folks starting new vegetable gardens is to grow what you like to eat. If you enjoy fresh salsa in the summer, why not plant a salsa garden?
How to Plan Your Salsa Garden
Select an area that receives at least 6 hours of sunlight a day. A 4×4 foot raised bed or square foot garden will grow plenty of ingredients for fresh salsa. A trellis on the north side of the bed will provide extra room for vining tomatoes to grow without shading the other plants. See how we built our square foot gardens here.
Divide your raised bed garden into one-foot sections to make it easy to map out the growing area so you know where to plant everything in your salsa garden. Beginning at the back of the bed:
Row 4: Tomatoes (3) along a trellis
Row 3: Peppers (4) in front of the tomatoes 1 per square foot
Row 2: Onions 9 per square foot
Row 2: Garlic Fall planted garlic = 6/square foot / Spring planted Garlic = 9/square foot
Row 1: Cilantro 9 per square foot
Start onions, peppers, and tomato seedlings from seed under lights or purchase transplants from your local nursery or garden center. Onion sets, garlic seeds, garlic chive, and cilantro seeds are also available online or at your local garden center.
What to Grow in Your Salsa Garden
The basic ingredients that go into salsa are tomatoes, peppers, garlic, onions, and cilantro.
Select meaty indeterminate varieties of tomatoes with good flavor. I like using paste tomatoes such as Amish Paste, Juliet, and San Marzano. These are dense, have few seeds, and not a lot of moisture to water down the salsa. Other fleshy varieties to consider are Cherokee Purple, Brandywine, or Bloody Butcher.
Indeterminate tomato plants grow very tall and produce their fruit over a period of time. Three tomato plants located on the north side of the garden bed along the trellis will provide you with plenty of tomatoes for salsa beginning mid-summer until frost.
Purchase transplants from your local nursery or garden center or grow from seed. Start seeds indoors under lights 6 weeks before your last frost date. Transplant hardened-off seedlings into the garden after all danger of frost has past. Plant 16 inches apart along the north end of your garden in front of the trellis. Tie the vines to the trellis as the plant grows. Prune out lower branches to aid in air circulation. Water regularly if rainfall is scarce. Plants need about 1 inch of water weekly once they are actively growing.
Do you like your salsa mild or hot? For a hot salsa, select varieties of chili peppers such as Jalapeño, Serrano, or Habanera. If you prefer a mild salsa, opt for bell peppers and mix with a mildly hot pepper like Anaheim. Four different pepper plants will allow you to mix, match, and experiment with a variety of salsa flavors. Purchase transplants from your local nursery or grow from seed. Start seeds indoors under lights 8 weeks before your last frost date. Transplant hardened-off seedlings into the garden after all danger of frost has past. Space pepper plants at least 12-inches apart. Use small tomato cages to help support the plants. Water regularly if rainfall is scarce. Plants need about 1 inch of water weekly once they are actively growing. Also see 10 Tips to Growing Peppers in Cold Climates for additional tips.
Onion flavors range from sweet to pungent. Select onion varieties that grow well in your area (See How to grow onions from seed). Grow from seed, purchased transplants, or onion sets (small bulbs) found at garden centers in the spring.
Onion sets are convenient and usually sold in bulk by the pound and come in yellow, white, or red. Grab a handful of each for some variety of flavor and color. Store extra onion sets in a cool, dark location and plant whenever a spot opens up. Space onions 4-inches apart or 9 per square foot.
Garlic is usually planted in the fall for larger bulbs (See How to plant garlic in the fall), but it can be planted in the spring as soon as the ground can be worked. The spring grown bulbs will be smaller, but will taste the same. You may be able to find garlic bulbs for planting at your garden centers or order online. Space fall planted garlic 6 per square foot and spring planted garlic 9 per square foot.
Another option to add garlic flavor to your salsa is to purchase a garlic chive plant from your garden center. Chopped garlic chives will add a nice, mild garlic flavor to your salsa and will make a nice addition to your salsa garden.
Cilantro adds a nice, fresh zing to salsa. Cilantro matures quickly especially in warm weather so to keep a continuous supply of cilantro available for your fresh salsa, grow a slow bolt variety, such as Cilantro Long Standing and keep seeding every 3-weeks.
Direct sow cilantro seeds in one square, 4 inches apart or 9 per square foot. Cover seeds with 1⁄2-inch of soil and keep moist. Sow another round in the next square 3-weeks later, then the next 3-weeks after that, and then the next. Keep rotating and this will maintain a steady supply of fresh cilantro growing and ready for harvest for your salsa.
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10 Tips to Growing Peppers in Colder Climates: Growing peppers is possible even if you are in cooler climates. The key is to select varieties that are adapted to colder temperatures with early maturity dates, so they grow and ripen before the first fall frosts kills the plant. [Read More]
Grilled Tomato Salsa: This tomato salsa recipe adds delicious depth of flavor from grilling the vegetables. The flavors transform to a delightful blend of sweet, smoky char, with a spicy kick that makes you crave for more.[Read More]